Monthly Archives: September 2016

What’s He like?

the-leap-of-faithOK, so it has been a few weeks since I posted on here last, and the simple reason for that is that I’ve been kicking around a fair bit the question of what Jesus is like. There are so many ways it’s possible to answer that question, but the last thing I want to do is give an answer that’s little more than religious platitudes. If you think about it, this is perhaps the question when it comes to Jesus. “Who is He, and what’s He like?” is a question on which so much else rides.

Think about it. Every time someone says “God is _____,” how hard is it to look at your own life, or at the world around you, and respond with “Then why does _____ happen?” I don’t have to look that far to know that this isn’t that hard to do. “If God is good, then why did He allow me to get hurt the way I did?” One I’ve seen a lot from conversations on LGBT Facebook pages is some version of “If the God of the Bible is so loving, then why are His followers so unloving?” Long story short, there’s a lot riding on these questions.

Even for me, one who professes to know Jesus, to say that it’s difficult to find answers to those questions is a hell of an understatement. My wife and I spent the first 3 years of our marriage living apart, and then another year patching up the damage that did to our relationship. And the people behind that whole blow up a while back were committed Christians. I still don’t know the why behind much of that, and I’m not sure I ever will. Trusting Jesus for my salvation was easy. Trusting Him enough to be vulnerable myself, to live life and not shrink back from it, and to be myself in all that means, is something I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to do.

So back to the question. Who is He? There have been a lot of answers put forward to that question over the years, based on a number of different interpretations (one young woman on Facebook last week said He was a “Jewish socialist”), but the main place I’m looking for my answer is the Bible. I have my reasons for that, as you might expect (and no, it’s not just because the Church says so; I make an effort to question Church positions on different things based on what I see in the Bible, and I would encourage you to do likewise). The short answer is that I believe in the Bible Jesus has made the effort to reach out to us, which means it’s a pretty good place to start. (Nature is another good place to look; you can tell a lot about the artist by what they choose to create.)

So who is He? There are many things He shows us about Himself in the Bible, but here are just a few. In Romans 8:1, He tells us that if you know Him, there’s no condemnation in how He looks at you. In 2 Peter 3:8-10, He tells us that if you don’t know Him, His one desire is that you would come to know Him. In the records of His crucifixion, He shows us just how far He went to win us back and make that relationship possible again after sin had broken it off. And in 1 John 4:10 and Romans 5:8, He tells us that His love for us has absolutely nothing to do with our own efforts. He loves us because of who He is, and because of who we are.

Does that love change if you’re white or black, or depending on the country you live in, or whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or what not? I have to say no. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate His love is limited to a select few, or in contrast, kept from a select group or two.

Does that knowledge make it easier to trust Him…? I hope so, although I do have to admit from my own life, like I said, that it can still be so hard. Lately I’ve been reading a book by N.T. Wright called Surprised by Scripture, and one of Wright’s observations is that, once we come to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually took place, it opens up a whole new world for us. I have to admit that there are days when I’m not sure I’m ready to live in that world just yet, even though I will readily admit that I believe what Jesus says about Himself in the Bible is true. As I mentioned in my last post, this trust is also a daily thing. It will come, I believe, given time.

I have to throw in a little plug here for the Misfit Discussion Forum, which should be up and running by the end of this week. This question, “Who is Jesus, and what’s He like?” will be the first one up there, and I am really interested in hearing your thoughts!

We’ll Get Through It

I have to admit I’ve been struggling with whether or not to publish a post like this after everything that’s gone on over the last few weeks. When emotions run high, good judgement doesn’t exactly follow, and I promised myself a long time ago that this place would never turn into a platform for angry rants or attacking others. That being said, the struggles we go through have value, and if you can relate to any of what follows then the risk of putting this out there is worth it. 

Here’s a curious thought. There are times in my life I have no idea how to respond to what’s going on, let alone how to deal with it. You’d think maybe as a minister this wouldn’t be the case, but it’s true. There are times in my life when I don’t have a clue. It’s going on three weeks now since this whole blow up over my hair, and I’m still…angry. I guess I thought I’d be past it by now, but I’m not. Every time I look in the mirror the anger’s there, just below the surface. I reached out through social media looking for support, or at least to know that I’m not the only one down here in the South who’s ever gone through something like this, and what I got instead were people, who I assume were well-meaning, that insisted my wife’s family had done me a favour by throwing me out of the house until I got it cut. In their eyes, I needed to grow up and “get a man’s haircut.” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that this is the very cultural box type of mentality that I’ve been taking a stand against for months now. I don’t want to be angry. I mean, I don’t want to be that guy who nobody wants to be around because he’s miserable all the time, but I can’t help it. I’m angry.

My wife got her hair done this past weekend, and I had some errands to run so I dropped her off. She goes to the same lady who does mine, so I went in to visit for a bit. Truth be told, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Before my wife’s turn, there was this little old lady getting done, and when she was finished and saw herself in the mirror, she exclaimed, “That looks like me!” I heard that, and I thought, “That’s it. That’s why I’m mad.” When you get your hair done, whether you just get a buzzcut or whether it’s long and permed and coloured or whatever the case may be, you choose how you want to look. Sure you may change it to fit the policy at your job, and you may not get much say in that, but at the end of the day it’s your choice to make. I’m mad because that’s a choice I no longer get to make, at least for the time that we continue to live with my wife’s family. It’s a choice which, for that time at least, is now made for me. (And I didn’t get any say in that decision, either. It was just made for me, too.)

I’ve written elsewhere as to why I think our appearance is so important a part of who we are. (See here for my thoughts in detail.) It’s how we show we are to the world. Now that things have changed, whenever I look in the mirror I don’t see me (unlike the lady in the salon). What I see instead is someone else’s version of me. The end result for me is that a piece of my personality is gone. Part of who I am isn’t welcome anymore, and I can’t do anything about it.

The question, then, is what the hell do I do now? There are any number of Biblical passages on forgiving others, and why it’s so important to do so, which makes forgiveness seem like a great place to start. (The story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 is one that has come to mind a lot recently.) Truth be told, I haven’t been able to bring myself to forgive my wife’s family yet. Maybe, once we’re out on our own and away from the people involved in this again, maybe then, when I’ve got the freedom to choose again how I want to look and when that part of my personality can come back, maybe then I’ll be able to forgive and let go of all this. I’ve had people give me compliments on how I look now that my hair is shorter, and I try to be gracious and take them in the spirit they’re given. Truth is, I don’t feel whole, and those compliments only serve to reinforce that for me. Maybe when I’m whole again, maybe then I’ll be able to forgive. For now I’ll just make the most of a bad situation, and try and figure out how to respond to all of this in a healthy way.

Being unable to forgive may not be the most Christian way to deal with all of this, but in the end I’m human, too. That may seem like rather a flimsy excuse, but there’s a reality here (as there is to many painful aspects of our lives) that I’ll miss if I try to gloss it over hand-hand-23901848with a veneer of Christian piety. Jesus meets us in these moments, in the midst of the pain and the anger, and I don’t want to miss that. This whole thing has given me a newfound empathy for a group of people I’m only just getting to know, and I wouldn’t want to miss that, either.

Oh I’ll get there, to a place where I can forgive and move on, maybe, once things change. For now, though, this is my new reality, and I’ll take it one day at a time. And if you’re going through something similar, I’d say take it one day at a time, too. It will take time to get through whatever anger or pain you’re feeling, but don’t rush yourself. You’ll get through it when you’re ready. And remember, you’re not alone. Jesus is right there with you, and I’m here, too. We’ll get through it together.

Is He real?

7387-cross_dark_sky_evil.630w.tnOne of the things I’ve noticed throughout all of the crap that my wife and I have gone through in the last few years (and there’s been a lot of it) is that how I view God tends to determine how I handle the crap. If I see Him as loving and close to me, for example, it makes the crap easier to deal with (although it doesn’t make it go away, that’s for sure), whereas if, for whatever reason, He seems distant or I think He’s pissed at me for one thing or another, it makes the crap that much harder to deal with.

The question is not a trivial one, either. If you’re the praying sort, how do you know who’s on the other end of your prayers? Better yet, how do you know anybody is on the other end at all? And if you’re not the type to pray, why start if there really is nobody on the other end to hear you? When I was asked a few years back to teach a Sunday School class at the church we were at at the time, I was told that when it came to prayer I was to teach these kids how to pray. To be honest, that request pissed me off. There are uses for prayer that is more scripted (praying through the Psalms can provide a voice to things we don’t know how to express, for example), but at its heart prayer is just a conversation with God, and if you can talk and listen then you can do that. What is of greater importance is how we view the person we’re talking to. Is He even there? Does He care? Is He even listening? (My apologies if this seems like covering old ground. This one’s kind of important.)

Whether or not there’s someone on the other end when we pray is a matter for faith more than anything else. There are reasons to believe, sure, but unless you find them convincing they may not be enough by themselves. So, is He real? The Bible itself can help us find an answer to that one. In the letter of 1 John, the Apostle John is writing to a group of Christians who’ve been caught up in believing that salvation comes not through trusting Christ but rather through “secret knowledge”. It’s the way he begins his letter that’s important for our purpose here. He says in 1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Take a close look at these verses and notice how many times the senses come into play. Twice the writer refers to what they have heard, four times to what they have seen, and once to what they were able to touch. Let that sink in for a minute. (When biblical writers emphasise something that often in such a short space, it functions as a sort of divine highlighter. This is something you don’t want to miss.)

What John is up to here is laying the foundation for when he later responds directly to those who are trying to mess around with the Christians he’s writing to. Basically he’s saying, “This is why I can talk to you about this,” or better, “Here’s my authority.” And where does that authority come from? It comes from the fact that John was there, and the fact that he constantly talks about “we” means he wasn’t the only one. These people were there when Jesus performed His miracles, and they were there to hear His teaching. In short, they saw that He was real, and for that reason John could call out those tried to change the minds of the Christians he wrote to.

So is He real? Those who heard Him speak and saw what He did when He walked this earth certainly thought so. I realise this doesn’t answer the second question, that of what He’s like, but this is one question that is worth answering well. An off the cuff answer just won’t do, so we’ll take that issue up in the next post.